Jackson Boxed In
Sunday, November 20, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Rarely in the past six years of Rams football has a team had the audacity to load up against the run and dare the team known for the “Greatest Show on Turf” to beat it with the pass.

But that’s exactly what the Arizona Cardinals did to the Rams on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. More shocking, though, than Arizona’s dare of the Rams was the fact that the ploy actually worked.

“With an eight man front and they bring 24 (safety Adrian Wilson) down in the paint, we started off early in the game trying to get the ball down the field to get them more in the Cover 2 shell,” coach Joe Vitt said. "We tried to run the football, but we couldn’t run the football. Give them credit, they stopped us.”

Stop might be the polite term for what Arizona was able to do to the Rams’ ground game Sunday. Running back Steven Jackson accounted for all of the team’s carries and, obviously, all of its yards.

That might not be a bad thing on a day where he was breaking off runs all over the place, but his longest gain of the day was 6 yards. Coincidentally, that was also his total yardage for the day.

Jackson finished with 6 yards on 12 carries, an average of half a yard per attempt. Jackson had a 6-yard gain in the second quarter which was his longest of the day. Of his 12 carries, five went for negative yards.

Jackson made matters worse with a fumble near the end of the first half. All in all, it was a long day for Jackson and it didn’t help that the Rams were unable to get the Cardinals to come out of their loaded package through the air.

“That was something that is frustrating as well,” receiver Torry Holt said. “In order for us to win games we have to run the ball as well as pass the ball. Once they make you one dimensional the ball is in their court now. They know what to expect from us and they can set defenses accordingly. For us to take a big step back in the running game today is disheartening.”

That step back started in motion last week against Seattle. With quarterback Marc Bulger, Holt and Isaac Bruce out for the two games before the bye, Jackson got his engine going by posting consecutive big games, including a career day against the Jaguars when he ran for 179 yards on 25 carries.

But the regression of the running game evolved beginning last week when he had 70 yards on 17 carries and it hit its crescendo this week with Arizona loaded up to stop it.

Much of that blame, according to center Andy McCollum falls squarely on the shoulders of the offensive line.

“We weren’t getting the job done,” McCollum said. “We weren’t getting much yardage on the run. We were negative yardage on the first few runs. They had some good defenses dialed up and we didn’t get the answers. They just executed better than we did. Give them credit and we have to get better.”

Arizona does deserve credit for its game plan to stop Jackson, but that doesn’t mean that the Cardinals should be lauded for doing something out of the ordinary. Arizona isn’t the first team in history to bring an extra safety up to help and it certainly won’t be the last.

“I’m not the guy who calls the plays that figures out what that is, but it did seem like the safety was up in the box and he was making a lot of tackles, making a lot of plays today,” right guard Adam Timmerman said. “There is something we have to adjust to that and I’m not sure exactly what it is, but bringing a safety in the box isn’t a new thing for us.”

It didn’t hurt Arizona’s cause that that safety happened to be Wilson, one of the most underappreciated players in the league. Wilson wreaked havoc on the Rams all day, posting eight tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

“Where was 24 coming from?” Holt said. “They were just roping him up, top of the roof and when the ball is hiked dropping him right back there with Marc. It was happening that fast. He played like a Pro Bowler today. He played incredible. He’s been looking for a breakout game and unfortunately for us, today was that game.”

Early last week, Vitt said he hoped to get Jackson running downhill and with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, but with Wilson in the box, the Rams ran a plethora of tosses and sweeps that resulted in negative yards.

None of those plays were more costly than the third-and-1 on the Arizona 23 with two minutes to go in the first half. Jackson took the ball on a pitch left, was hit and lost the ball. Arizona’s Ross Kolodziej recovered and the Rams came away with no points. Instead of a 13-10 or better lead at the half, Arizona scored and took a 13-10 leads of its own into the locker room.

Although Jackson had just 8 yards on 10 carries in the first half, it still seemed that maybe the Rams would be patient with him and get him the ball some in the second half. Instead, he had just two carries the rest of the game against Arizona’s 25th ranked run defense.

Jackson proved what a dangerous weapon he could be with Bulger out in the weeks before the bye and teams around the league have obviously taken notice.

“They came out stopping the run, that’s what they wanted to do and they wanted us to prove that we could pass the ball and move the ball down the field,” Jackson said. “Until we do that, I’m pretty sure that’s what a lot of teams will do now.”